I made a breeze-powered carousel! It's got five stylised deer, striped mirrors, a canopy and a tented underside where the paddles (oars?) go. It was a lot of fun and a total pain in the arse to build.

The anchor ship I built would catch the breeze from the fan and spin around and I was worried it was going to come down since I'd not made the hanger to spin. I've moved that out of the breeze and the carousel now lives in the airflow.

I was going to use a combo of polymer clay and wire to make the deer, and I got as far as making the armatures before I decided that it wasn't going to work the way I hoped. I still have the armatures and I like the 'line drawing in space' aspect to them, they're really simplified but still work as little sculptures. Something for a future thing.

MDF laser cutouts of 'deer parts'

I ended up getting some plywood laser cut to make the deer. I figured I'd make the body out of two layers of 6mm ply and the legs out of two more layers each of 3mm ply. I drew out the shapes and sent it off, and got lots and lots of bits back that happily all went together to make the deer figures I had in mind. I really am going to get a CNC router/mill at some point quite soon because even though the service is good it's not sustainable to pay for each bit of cutting (even factoring in the cost of the machine).

The deer assembled

I was going to stick them together and then smooth everything off to make it passably realistic, but assembling the parts they had so much more sculptural presence with layers. Something more machine age, something reminding me (modestly) of Percy Metcalfe's designs, something better than I was originally going to make. So yes. I smoothed the body shapes but kept the legs as crisp layers and I think the contrast is a good one.

I hate sanding. I hate the effort, the dust, the sound, the bits of grotty sandpaper, the fiddlyness, it gives me the shudders. But… it's nice once it's done.

I bought some ready made plywood circles for the platform and ceiling of the carousel, along with some bamboo rings that were listed as being the same size. Of course the circles weren't flat and the rings weren't the same size (sometimes as each other), but they weren't listed as exact measurements, so whatever.

The whole structure was going to be held together with a chunky 6mm dowel running vertically from top to bottom. The circles, the tented tops and bottoms, the paddles and the hook to hold the whole thing up are all attached to this dowel.

Painting the circles was straightforward, and created some masking tape nachos.

The mirrors I'd had for a while from when I made a simple kaleidoscope tube to take iPhone photos through. They're simple PVC things and easy to cut by scoring and snapping - though warn anyone near you when you snap them because it makes one hell of a bang.

I made a structure out of cardboard to attach them to, which meant I could make sure the angle was going to be right before I cut any mirrors, and for some reason I didn't take any pictures of it which is a shame. Carousels often have tilted mirrors in the centre so that as it spins you see the carousel and its occupants reflected rather than the mundane world outside.

I masked out the mirrors and spray painted the stripes, then promptly managed to screw one up so had to repaint it. Sigh. I made another slight screwup in using superglue to attach the gold braid to the mirrors - superglue causes fogging! From this point on I used wood glue (essentially PVA). It's better anyway, it grabs faster. I've come to the conclusion that superglue is a bit shit.

The deer are going to be on traditional candy-striped poles, so they were next. I was using 4mm dowel for this. First I sprayed them gold, then wrapped masking tape around them to leave a gap, then spray painting and finally the nice bit of revealing the effect.

Then I had to drill holes in the deer because I'd glued them together and done all the sanding without cutting channels in the plywood beforehand when it would have been easy. What a dolt. It was stressful and needed lots of careful measuring and clamping and all that shit so I really did not enjoy that bit.

I got it done though! Then a bit more sanding and some actual carving with the Dremel and the ears went on. I'm really pleased with how the deer ended up.

Unpainted deer set up in a cardboard spray booth
The deer after one coat of paint
Painted and ready to put into the carousel

Then it's spray paint, sanding, spray paint, sanding, spray paint, sanding, spray paint… I can't remember how many cycles to get a good finish. This was annoying.

The deer in place on the carousel

First positioning of the actual deer on the actual deck of the carousel!

Then figuring out when the actual wind-powered bit would be. I originally thought of some kind of turbine but this design didn't work well with the wind direction from the side. It worked really well with the air coming from underneath. It also made a good crown.

I'd liked to have had the tented bit on the underside also be the motive 'engine' but it wasn't to be. I opted for a paddle design, more below.

Once that was decided I started fixing things in place. I'd had these wood hemispheres left over from doing the matryoshka eggs. I drilled holes through the sort-of centres for the dowels to go through. I wanted the holes to be centred but I was using the Dremel stand for it and it kept shifting and I got frustrated and decided it didn't matter. It didn't actually.

Then onto doing the rest of the underside. More fixings, more frustration, more design-as-you-go. I really like how the end bit looks, it's a shame it's underneath where you can't see it all that well, so I did something similar for the top!

Attaching the top tent bits felt like it was going to be difficult and frustrating but it was really nice and satisfying. I enjoyed this bit. The ovals went on nicely and created exactly the effect I wanted, and then more painted hemispheres to join them visually and the whole thing was really coming together.

Now for the 'engine'. The paddles were nice to make, simple circles with a sector cut out and the edges glued to make a shallow cone, then some painted bamboo skewers with the ends sanded down glued on as supports. The centre of this bit was a pain to make. I had some back board from a picture frame that was somewhere between cardboard and hardboard and it was just right to cut into the right shape pieces. For some reason I don't have a photo of it, which is bizarre given how long it took to make. I must have been utterly sick of it by that point. That bit slides onto the central dowel, and the supports of the paddles go into each of the five slots. Then another decorative hemisphere is attached on the bottom with lots of glue to finish it off.

Then there's the bracket to hang the whole thing up from. I'd wanted to have this made of perspex and I did even get the parts cut and I glued it all together with special non-fogging clear glue… and it wasn't strong enough. It bent alarmingly when I did a test with something the same weight as the carousel.

So. That was an arse. I redesigned the bracket slightly to be thicker and stronger and have some cross-bracing and got that laser cut (sigh) and thankfully it was perfect. I'll use the perspex one for something else. It's all connected using a hook for 'wind spinners'. It's nice to actually use something for its intended purpose, because that's what this kind of is.

So there we go. It doesn't spin quite as readily as the anchor ship did, but it does spin.

I'm really pleased with it!